Thank you AstraZeneca for sponsoring this post. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. and LVNG With Lung Cancer for more information.
I think it’s pretty common to think that “bad things” only happen to other people. We go through life thinking that someone else will have the accident or get the diagnosis. We reason away concerning signs and symptoms because we simply aren’t fully educated or think that if we just ignore what’s in front of us, it may go away. I’m guilty of this in myself and in my loved ones. However, this November in honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share with you my family’s story of how lung cancer has impacted us as well as some helpful information on this disease.
So I guess you may be wondering why this is a topic that I think deserves an in-depth discussion and the answer for my family is because we have lost a loved one to lung cancer. Almost five years ago, my father-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer and in a matter of months, he was no longer with us.
In January of 2015, lung cancer robbed my husband of his father.
It took away my children’s grandfather.
And it changed the landscape of my family.
Looking back, there were signs of what was to come. Even when I talk to my husband about those weeks and even years leading up to his father’s diagnosis, he says he believes his dad knew. I think he’s right. I think he had been seeing the signs and symptoms for quite some time. And once the diagnosis was made, there was just so much information that it was overwhelming for him and delayed him taking action. That why for me, it’s so important to educate and debunk the myths that surround this type of cancer. You see, in the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, accounting for approximately 154,000 deaths each year and about one-quarter of all cancer deaths – more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. It took a father away from my husband and a grandfather away from my children. And now I want you to know the real facts about lung cancer so that hopefully you will not lose a loved one like we did.
Are there Different Types of Lung Cancer?
Quite simply, yes. Lung cancer is not just one disease; about 80 to 85 percent have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and about 10 to 15 percent of patients have small cell lung cancer, and each category has many different subtypes within it. Because there are different types of lung cancer, when someone is diagnosed, it’s important to understand the specific characteristics of the disease, so they can find out which types of treatment are most appropriate for them. This is the crux of “personalized medicine” – ensuring each patient is treated according to the specific characteristics of their unique diagnosis.
What Does Lung Cancer Look Like?
With the different types and stages of lung cancer, this can be a difficult question to answer. For my family, lung cancer looked like this.
However, I’ve recently learned that there are many stages of lung cancer and a lot of misconceptions about what each stage means. So, let’s take a look at the stages of lung cancer. First, what is a stage? Simply put, it’s a measurement. You see, lung cancer stage is determined by tumor size and whether it has spread to nearby areas, lymph nodes, or other organs. Some of these stages have unique names, which can sometimes make understanding the types of lung cancer confusing. There are four main “stages” of NSCLC, defined primarily by the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread within or outside of the lungs. The most common stages of lung cancer are Stage 3 and Stage 4 cancer, which are surrounded by lots of misconceptions. You may have heard the term metastatic mentioned when people discuss lung cancer and here is why. Stage 4 NSCLC is called “metastatic” and occurs when the disease has spread to distant parts of the chest or to other organs, such as the brain, bones or liver. Stage 3 is different—it is an earlier stage of disease with better long-term survival rates. Typically, the earlier we treat disease, the better outcomes we have.
Can Lung Cancer be Treated?
Yes! Depending on the stage at diagnosis, doctors can work with patients to create a treatment plan. This may include a number of options. It’s important to know that about 1 out of every 4 people diagnosed with NSCLC – more than 43,000 cases each year in the US – are diagnosed with Stage 3. And most people who are diagnosed with Stage 3 NSCLC have tumors that are determined to be “unresectable,” meaning they cannot be removed surgically. However, with the advancement of treatment options, it is critical for patients not to give up – to be aware of their options and talk to their doctor about what treatments may be appropriate for them.
What Should You Know About Treatment?
When a lung cancer diagnosis is delivered, it can be overwhelming to the recipient and family. The most important thing to know is that there are treatment options. Lung cancer treatment is a big decision, and patients deserve the best option for them from the get-go. Just as a team coach wants to draft the best player first rather than wait until a later draft round, there is no type of cancer where you shouldn’t choose your best option first for your specific type of disease. In order to get the best first, you have to test first.
Once options have been considered, it’s time to make a choice. Although a critical factor, the choice of treatment comes down to more than just the effectiveness of a medicine – it can also depend on if and where the cancer has spread, like the brain for example, and the safety, tolerability and convenience of a given therapy. All these factors can help dictate what the best option may be, with the goal of living significantly longer without tumors spreading, while being able to truly live life with lung cancer. Given the complexity of these decisions, it is also very important for patients to have a comprehensive medical team that they trust, comprised of nurses, oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, and more. Each part of the medical team has a unique expertise and can provide critical insight throughout the treatment journey. The bottom line is that patients should be their own advocates: get tested for the right treatment options, wait for the results and start on the best option first.
Is There Hope for the Future?
Again, the answer to this is YES! In recent years, researchers have come to understand important details of how lung cancer grows and spreads. This has led to important new treatment options that treat cancer differently from conventional therapies, like chemotherapy and radiation. Two important types of therapy are targeted medicines and immunotherapies. In later stages of lung cancer, particularly stages 3 and 4 NSCLC, these types of medicines are changing the way cancer is treated. Every day, new discoveries and advancements are being made so it’s important to be informed and work through your options when a diagnosis is received.
Why Should You Care?
So why do I share all of this with you? As I mentioned, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. That’s why in honor of my late father-in-law, I want to ask you all to help me to educate and inform, to debunk misconceptions and make sure people know there are treatments and options when a lung cancer diagnosis is received.
I ask you to please join me in spreading the word! If you know someone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, share with them that it is critical that they become their own advocate, understand their full diagnosis and talk to their medical team about what treatments are right for them. And it’s even more important to remember and share with them that now more than ever, there is HOPE!
Then tell me, has your family’s life been touched by lung cancer and if so, in what way?
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.